Tuesday 9th August 2005 - The day Phil Neville made his Everton debut. I'll always remember that day... not for that reason, but because it was the first Champions League appearance our club had ever made. The fact Moyes chose to throw Neville straight in to the team that day, a day which was one of the biggest in this clubs history shows the faith the manager had in him right from the start. 8 years later... it never waivered once.
At the time I had only just turned 15... Neville was 28. We are now 8 years down the line & in that time I have grown from boy to man... On the football pitch that also happened to Nev.
His career at United was a success. He made 263 appearances for the Red Devils picking up numerous trophies along the way. He was trusted by Sir Alex & regularly played over 40 games a season. That all changed in 2004/05. I don't know the details as I'm not a United fan but that season Neville only played 34 games for United in total. It doesn't seem a bad total but only 19 of them were in the league. The rest of the performances came in cup games which makes me think he was starting to become a bit part player & not featuring week in, week out like he had done in previous seasons. So... Neville had a decision to make. I'm sure a lot of players would have been quite happy picking up a decent wage, playing in the cup games & odd league game then taking the plaudits at the end of the season when picking up your winners medal. Not Phil Neville.
I couldn't tell you why David Moyes wanted to signed Neville from United or even why Phil Neville would want to join Everton. My guess would be Moyes would want Neville's experience, mentality & versatility. My guess as to why Neville would want to join Everton? God knows! I'm sure as a club who had just qualified for the Champions League we had a certain appeal but, with the whole Manchester / Liverpool rivalry a lesser man would have shy'd away from the challenge & looked elsewhere.
Phil Neville as a player isn't as 'naturally gifted' as most, I'm sure he would admit that but you give him a job to do & he will do it to the best of his ability whether it's in either full back position or in the middle of the park & more importantly to David Moyes... He was a player you could trust!
Recently he hasn't quite been the same player. I'm not saying he's 'past it' but whereas he is maybe losing half a yard it's becoming slightly more apparent as the likes of Gibson & Coleman seem to be gaining one. To be fair to Neville he has always been an excellent player... 59 England caps tells you that. I just feel he is now starting to become slightly undone by the 'modern game'. When Neville was growing up full-backs were there to defend & defend only in the English game. Now, your full back is your winger also. Back to the positives though...
Some of my memorable Phil Neville performances were the night he 'trended' on twitter due to having Gareth Bale in his back pocket in a game against Spurs. Another would be the Semi final against United at Wembley... to face his boyhood club & not only put in a solid performance but to step up & take a penalty in the shoot out took great heart.
There's a great photo from that day (below) & after seeing it I remember a few lads saying 'He didn't enjoy it' or 'He's still a Manc'. Not true! Phil Neville being the pro he is wouldn't have celebrated because it was his old club & he is full of respect. The other reason I believe... he's a winner! Phil Neville was a man brought up at Manchester United & winning a Semi final isn't an achievement to him. Winning the cup would have been!
Now it's time to talk about the man himself as Everton Captain. We all know he is a tremendous leader on the football pitch but off it as a representative for our football club & a role model... He's 2nd to non!
I've heard stories of him dragging the reserves out of the changing rooms & making them go back & pick up their training equipment which they had left lying around. He also kept all the Everton players behind one day after training to go & greet the new academy players & talk to them. There are many more examples of this & I don't think a lot of fans realise how valuable it is. I am by no means a football expert... I played at an amateur level for a few years before coaching at youth level & gaining a few coaching qualifications. What I do know is having the right 'role model' for these young kids is vital. When Neville joined Everton, Jack Rodwell was 14 and in the academy... this is what he had to say about Neville:
'One of the best players & person I've worked with, helped me loads, great captain. Congrats for everything at Everton mate'.
There are many more tributes similar. When you realise how important Phil Neville was off the pitch at our football club you start to realise what a phenomenal captain he was. I recently spoke to Mick Rathbone on twitter regarding Neville asking what he was like as a captain. His reply was simply 2 words... 'The Best'.
This was only meant to be a short blog but it has turned more in to an essay! People who don't support Everton won't understand why as there is no 'YouTube Highlight Reel' like there was for the likes of Cahill & Arteta as Phil Neville doesn't have many highlights (except in his hair... & maybe the step-over) but while I grown from a boy to a man watching Everton he was there week in, week out setting the example & leading my football team.
Skip, if you ever get to read this... Among your 6 Premier League medals... 3 FA Cups medals... 1 Champions League medal & 59 England caps in your trophy cabinet you need one other & it takes pride of place amongst the rest. The Everton Captains Armband.
With all your other honours you were part of a team. At Everton... you were the leader of it and that's the greatest honour of all.
Danny Bostock. Follow Danny on twitter @Bozzy18